The life of a developer in charge of a movie tie-in is fraught with peril, and up on the chopping block today is High Moon Studios. It's had less than a year to make an entire game based on that Transformers: Dark of the Moon movie they've got coming out - you know, that franchise from the cartoon with the toys doing all that robot stuff - which obviously is quite stressful in itself. I think we must all expect that some corners are going to be cut somewhere, but I empathise with how difficult a job it must be for the poor guys.
Despite all this, I really must ask: who in their right mind decides to map steering controls of the Transformers' vehicle forms to the right analogue stick?
Every video game in the history of time has you steer cars with the left stick. We've all learnt it. It's innate. Obviously High Moon Studios got their cars mixed up with the control scheme of Halo, but you're not actually steering the car in Bungie's classic series - it automatically moves to where you're pointing the reticule. In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, however, you are steering cars with the right stick. It's all wrong, wrong, wrong.
You can ignore the bigger changes from last year's unexpectedly well-received Transformers: War for Cyberton, such as the complete lack of campaign co-op or the new stealth force transformations, because it's the little things - like those wonky steering controls - that are more indicative of Dark of the Moon's hurried release and flawed existence. It's a lot of flaws, some more significant than others, adding together to create the unlikable whole.
The first thing that needs to take a deserved battering is the campaign length, which weighs in at a measly four hours. It's a linear string of seven levels, with you knocking down stages as Bumblebee, Ironhide, Mirage, Soundwave, Starscream, Megatron, and (the one you've all been waiting for) Optimus Prime.
On paper the idea is that each character brings a unique flavour and personality to the proceedings. Ironhide, for instance, is a lumbering brute - and one of the rare examples of a Transformer that actually has more guns on his chassis than product placement. This emphasis on individuality doesn't really work in practice, however, as most characters only use minor variants of the exact same rifle-and-machine-gun combination.
Most of the game is explicitly familiar territory, alternating between long-distance outside shooting galleries to funnelling you down tight indoor corridors. It's all remarkably commonplace stuff, and with so many other, better options available in 2011, there's not nearly enough creativity in Dark of the Moon's corridors to lift the core of the game beyond the mundane.
It certainly doesn't help that the game features its own scoring system based upon incrementing a multiplier with melee attacks, thus ensuring the entire game plays out in the same way regardless of individual flair: Knock a few characters down with powerful melee attacks to boost the multiplier before blasting away at anything else in the vicinity. It doesn't matter if you're cruising around as Bumblebee or hoofing it as Megatron, the whole game is a rinse-and-repeat exercise with different character models.
The rushed choice of aesthetic - a city, a jungle, an underground complex - lacks the otherworldly intrigue of War for Cybertron's twisting metallic constructions, replacing the former's varied colour palette with a dull, endless procession of mottled browns and uninspiring greys. Ammo is infinite and there's no choice of weapon or loadout, and tactics don't get any more complex than choosing when to optimally reload. You simply plough forward jamming away on the triggers.